Friday, 20 February 2009


Miles Malleson and Michael Wilding

This third film version of E.C.Bentley's famous detective novel (the second, in 1929, had been directed by Howard Hawks) is directed by Herbert Wilcox, a director who though popular in the box-office of the time is hardly going to make it onto anybody's top director list. TRENT'S LAST CASE certainly does have its admirers although I can't really claim to be one of them. It is a puzzle story but one almost totally lacking in suspense. The eponymous Trent is played by Michel Wilding whose fresh faced charm is totally unsuited to this type of story. Margaret Lockwood is reliable as chief suspect and romantic interest and Orson Welles, while very good as the victim (at one point referring to his own stage production of Othello and saying he "didn't like the lead actor") only gets twenty minutes screen time. Lovely Miles Malleson gets a meatier role than usual and there is a funny cameo from a very young Kenneth Williams as an Irish gardener. Interesting if you are a Welles completist but be prepared not to be thrilled. Rating **

Tuesday, 17 February 2009


James Mangold is one of the newer Hollywood directors who hovers on the edge of my consciousness with a little flashing light over his head that says "interesting" without his films ever being 100 % satsfying. So it is with IDENTITY which was released in 2003 to, generally, good reviews which lumped it in with the slasher genre but praised it for being superior. There is actually much more going on here. The film has a sort of framing story featuring Alfred Molina as a psychiatrist which gives the film a cute psychological back story that I found both intrusive and as unnecessary as the much criticised epilogue to the 1956 THE BAD SEED. If it works for you that is fine but I was having too much fun with the main section of the film and was quiite happy to take it at face value. A stormy, rain swept night and ten travellers, for various reasons, find themselves marooned at an out of the way motel complex. Attempts to get help soon lead to the discovery that the bridge is out, the road has been washed away and the phones are all down...and there is a homicidal maniac on the loose. No folks, we are not back in a 1930's old dark house thriller but that is the name of the game. One by one the motel guests are being sliced and diced. Red herrings and clues abound and at one point somebody actually utters the classic line (raising a cheer from me) of "Look, we'll just all stay together" which has been ignored by professional victims for decades. There's a head in the tumble drier and you have to go and look for something in your room, on your own, yeah, sure you do. Without ever quite spoofing the genre, Mangold, plays all the cliches and openly lets us know that he knows that we know by pointedly invoking references to THE OLD DARK HOUSE, PSYCHO, HALLOWEEN and, of course, Agatha Christie's TEN LITTLE INDIANS. The revelation of the killer is totally unbelievable but excused by that damed framing plot....but, you know what ? I'd have been just as happy to laugh it all off without the pychological mumbo jumbo. After all if I believe that my lawn can kill me when Night Shyamalan tells me, I'm game fopr almost anything. A superior cast led by Ray Liotta, John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Jake Busey and Rebecca De Mornay play without a hint of send up. Have fun. Rating ***

Monday, 16 February 2009


I hold my hands up as an unrepentant admirer of the films of M.Night Shyamalan. I really find the abuse that seems to be heaped on both him personally and on his films totally mystifying.Even if you feel his films are not up to much, why the abuse ? Personally, the only thing that worries me about the fact that his films seem to attract such a negative response is that he might not get finance for another. In these days when Hollywood is obsessed with remakes and sequels, Night is a young director who does neither. He writes and directs his movies which, for the most part, are unlike anything being made in Hollywood today. On the surface his films are easy to describe, but since WIDE AWAKE he has made THE SIXTH SENSE, SIGNS, UNBREAKABLE, THE VILLAGE and LADY IN THE WATER - all, for my money, highly original (if you think SIGNS is about an alien invasion you are seriously missing the point - what his films are actually about is never on the surface - which is not to say you have to look very deep) - and now comes THE HAPPENING. Grass makes people commit suicide ? Aw, C'mon - that's not what it is really about! See it and think - that is what the director is asking you to to rather than sit and be brainwashed. On the surface, THE HAPPENING has some very good performances (even Mark Wahlberg) and some terrifically directed scenes (the sequences near the end with the isolated old lady make one {well, me!} long to see Night attempt something more gothic). I have to take issue with the end of the film. Shyamalan is noted for what many moviegoers call the twist ending (in fact they are nothing of the sort and if you pay attention the endings should just confirm what you had worked out during the unravelling of the plot). THE HAPPENING has two endings - the first which is satisfying and give close for the chacacters is followed by a totally predictable epilogue set in Paris which just spell out what we would expect anyway and does nothing more than prove that Hollywood doesn't like a happy ending. If I had to compare (an odious pastime I admit) with another film, thematically, it would be Ingmar Bergman's SHAME which many regard as the Swedish direcor's greatest film, although it is actually my least favourite Bergman film. Shyamalan is more optimistic than Bergman, although I am not putting Night in Bergman's class. Rating ***